By Tom Sheridan
True story: My wife was with me while I was doing chaplaincy work in a Chicago-area hospital many years ago.
She visited a pediatrics ward where a mother was comforting her young son after minor surgery. Next she sat with a 40-something couple helping to nurse their daughter through an illness.
The moral of the story: Parenting is never over.
That reminder may be helpful since, once again, it’s summertime. School’s out and it’s the time of year when parents pat their kids lovingly on the rear as they head outside to play with friends. No, wait. That was my generation.
Back in those ancient times, I’d grab a quick breakfast and scoot out the door heading for whatever kid-type adventure beckoned. A long bike-hike. Baseball. Just exploring. My parents expected that I’d wander home when the streetlights went on.
No more. Not in a world riddled with fears and concerns, porn and predators, boogeymen and terrorists. Watch your kids. Keep ’em close. Play dates. Organized activities. Check the cell phone’s GPS. Stranger danger.
Free-range parenting – the current jargon for what most of us experienced as kids – is a big no-no. Parents are expected – sometimes under penalty of the law – to hover over their children.
It’s not easy to be a parent these days. Actually, it never was, though it certainly was different. Our kids and grandchildren live in a different world today, though I suspect every parent of every age could make a similar observation.
Something that hasn’t changed is that a parent still experiences life like an odd recipe: There’s one part chaos, one part love and affection, and one part wondering what in the heck just happened.
Today’s world – economically unequal, uber-technological, social media-led, environmentally challenging, politically unstable, faith diminished, civility negligent, career lacking, opportunity deficient – makes older parents like us squirm and worry about our offspring, despite their ages.
And since parenting never does end, it means that I have to worry not just about my children, but about my grandchildren as well. Oh, I know their parents worry about them enough (too much?), but so do I.
And that’s where faith comes in.
There’s a lot of very appropriate focus on the family these days, especially after last October’s synod on family life at the Vatican. Family life is challenged. In some cultures and societies and demographics, it may be almost nonexistent. But a family remains a positive goal. Yes, it takes a village to raise a child … but it’s best if there’s a family at the heart of the village.
That’s part of the reason why the church recognizes the connection between family and faith.
Arriving in Ecuador for the start of his journey to the Americas last year, Pope Francis cited his concerns – and hopes – for family life. He described the family as the “nearest hospital, the first school for the young and the best home for the elderly.” And he talked about how love is at the center of it all.
Parenting truly never ends. So, if there’s a bit of advice one generation of parents can offer another, perhaps it’s this:
Teach your kids how to believe in a loving God and in themselves. Keep them safe but don’t smother them. Teach them to be alert but not paranoid.
Yes, take them to play dates and check the GPS and web history, but don’t forget to show them how to wonder. Amaze them with the world around them. Demonstrate hope. Show them how to share – their love, their faith and themselves.